When Bob Bradley settles on a starting lineup for Tuesday night’s friendly against Paraguay, he will have some tough decisions to make. Two decisions that shouldn’t be too tough are including Juan Agudelo and Timmy Chandler into the United States starting lineup.
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We should see the two youngsters after both starred in the United States’ stirring comeback against Argentina, but Bradley’s desire to see those two play more minutes alongside regular starters could lead to us seeing more of the group that gave Argentina a good half game on Saturday.
What we shouldn’t see on Tuesday is a formation featuring the trio of Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones and Maurice Edu. The three defensive-minded midfielders struggled to generate any offense and failed to garner much in the way of possession against Argentina. Playing badly against Argentina is no crime, but the same trio also struggled against a forgettable Colombia side in October, in the first unveiling of that trio in a 4-5-1 formation.
The 4-5-1 formation looks to be on hold for now, and not just because of Agudelo’s emergence. The Argentina match served to remind us that the U.S. back-line lacks quality passers out of the back. The 4-5-1 gives American defenders fewer outlets for the long passes the current back four prefers. Throw in the fact that Altidore isn’t a polished target striker who is adept at consistently putting himself in good positions for long balls from the back and you wind up with a defense that turns the ball over repeatedly, instead of helping the team keep possession.
The 4-4-2 not only puts more pressure on the opposing defense, but also gives American defenders more options to relieve pressure. Agudelo and Jozy Altidore played well together against Argentina and should be given the nod up top against a Paraguay side that looked vulnerable, defensively, in a 3-1 loss to Mexico last Saturday.
Bradley will have some tougher decisions defensively. Does he start Oguchi Onyewu for a second match after he struggled badly for much of the Argentina friendly, or does he give him another chance against Paraguayan strikers Lucas Barrios and Oscar Cardozo? Bradley could turn to inexperienced, but promising, New York Red Bulls defender Tim Ream, but Bradley could be inclined to give Onyewu a chance to build on a strong finish against Argentina.
Paraguay will present a much different challenge than Argentina did. The Paraguayans don’t have a creator like Lionel Messi, but do boast some talented forwards in Lucas Barrios and Oscar Cardozo. Playing with two defensive midfielders much like the United States (and Argentina), Paraguay plays a more traditional style that the United States can match up well with.
With the 4-5-1 unlikely to be used again, Bradley will have to make a decision in central midfield. Who will sit? Will it be Michael Bradley, who played well against Argentina and could use the games, considering his recent lack of playing time at Aston Villa? Will it be Jermaine Jones, who didn’t have a good 45 minutes against Argentina but who should be rested? Could it be Maurice Edu, who played better in the second half against Argentina when paired with Bradley in a 4-4-2?
The game should also offer Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey more of an opportunity to drive the attack than in the Argentina match, where both struggled to make an impact, and where defending the waves of Argentina attacks pushed them deeper and deeper.
If the United States does trot out a 4-4-2, the match should provide Altidore with another chance to break the recent scoring drought he’s been enduring for both club and country. He’ll be returning to Nashville for the first time since scoring a hat-trick against Trinidad & Tobago two years ago, a career highlight that seems like ages ago, given his recent struggles to find playing time at club level and score on any level.
With Edson Buddle being sent home after the Argentina match, Agudelo and Altidore should get 90 minutes together to see if the positive signs they showed on Saturday are evidence of a viable forward tandem. A good showing from them against Paraguay could leave Bradley with fewer decisions to make the next time the national team gets together in May.
Ives Galarcep is a senior writer for FoxSoccer.com covering Major League Soccer and the U.S. national team.